Does solid food over breastfeeding really help babies sleep better?

Doctors encourage exclusive breastfeeding for babies 6 months and younger

A recent debate about feeding infants solid food before 6 months of age has become a point of conversation among new mothers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mothers should exclusively breastfeed for the first four to six months, however a recent study has questioned whether starting solid food earlier leads to better sleep.

Elizabeth Doyle, M.D., physician with Norton Community Medical Group – Shepherdsville and Norton Healthcare’s system medical director for lactation, weighed in on the discussion and other breastfeeding topics.

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Q: This new study notes that infants who are exclusively breastfed do not sleep as well as those who are given solid food earlier. Should parents be giving solid food to their babies earlier?

A: There are more negative implications that come with starting an infant on solid food earlier. It is not “normal” to sleep through the night for breastfed infants, especially in the months right after birth. In fact, some breastfed babies do not sleep through the night until they are 1 year old. Breast milk is more easily digested than formula and does not sit in the stomach for as long. It is common and normal for breastfed infants to wake in the night for necessary feedings throughout the first year. The study in question found that babies on earlier solids (at 3 months old) only slept for up to 16 minutes longer per night. There also is a study that links feeding solid foods to babies before 4 month old to an increased risk of Type 1 diabetes (insulin-requiring).

Q: Why should solid foods be avoided the first six months?

A: An infant must be able to sit up to consume solid food, however the majority of infants cannot sit up until about 6 months of age. Mothers should strive to exclusively breastfeed their child for the first four to six months. Breastfeeding is species-specific and has health benefits from baby and mother. It reduces infections in babies, such as ear infections, diarrhea and pneumonia. It is not only healthier, but also reduces a mother’s risk of diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer. Because pregnancy is a high-sugar/high-fat metabolic state, the act of breastfeeding returns the mother’s metabolism to normal. In addition, infants might not be ready until closer to six months to actually swallow foods. The tongue motions for sucking from the breast or the bottle are completely different than motions required to swallow baby food.

Q: Why is breastfeeding so important for children?

A: Breastmilk is uniquely engineered for each baby, at that moment. Breastfeeding can help with the following:

  • Decreases risk of common childhood infections such as vomiting/diarrhea, common cold, ear infections
  • Decreases risk of more severe childhood infections, such as pneumonia and hospitalizations for dehydration
  • Decreases risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 75 percent
  • Reduce the child’s risk of developing diabetes

Q: With all the outbreak of hepatitis A, should new moms stop breastfeeding if they get a vaccine?

A: It is completely safe for breastfeeding mothers to get a hepatitis A shot. Many mothers worry that receiving a vaccine and then breastfeeding will negatively impact their child. This is not the case. Babies are not able to get the vaccine for hepatitis A until age 1, so getting a hepatitis A vaccine can protect you and your child.

Q: What’s the biggest thing you want parents to know?

A: There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for every situation. If you have questions, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Your pediatrician will be able to give you suggestions to help you find the optimal time to start your baby on solid foods.